Senate panel: Allow dog tracks with no dogs

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A divided Senate panel on Thursday narrowly approved a bill to let greyhound tracks keep their licenses without having to offer live racing, opening the door for them to become card rooms or other types of gambling venues, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

Dog tracks back the bill – they say they lose money by continuing to offer a dying sport just so they can keep their pari-mutuel license, which allows them to offer poker, the real money-maker – and may one day allow them to offer slots.

Greyhound lovers also are pushing the idea – and have formed a strange alliance with the dog tracks in trying to eliminate the requirement for a certain number of live greyhound races per year in order to keep their license.

But in the middle of those two groups and strongly opposed to the bill are breeders and dog owners, who say they’ll be put out of work by the measure. And other gambling interests are watching carefully from the wings, with concerns about what the dog tracks will become.

The bill (SB 382) passed the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on a 6-4 vote, it’s only committee reference so far in the Senate. That would appear to put the proposal on a fast-track for the Senate floor. A similar bill got serious consideration in the Legislature last year, but died amid late session wrangling over differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. On Thursday, the Senate bill was amended to conform it to this year’s House bill, in hopes of avoiding the same fate.

Opponents of the bill say the tracks will take the first opportunity they have to close their aging track venues and move to new locations – within certain limits already in the law about the portability of the licenses – where they’ll essentially become new betting parlors.

“We’re looking at over 3,000 employees losing their jobs,” said Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the breeders, who also warned that closing the tracks endangers dogs, for which enough adoptive families may not be able to be quickly found.

But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and other supporters of the bill say most of the breeders and dog owners who race the greyhounds at Florida tracks don’t even live in Florida and that there are adoption agencies ready to scoop up dogs – though Sachs acknowledged that suddenly out-of-work dogs is one of the problems with putting the industry out of business.

But Sachs also was able to preserve in her bill a provision aimed at lessening the impact of the change – by allowing a tax credit to remain on the books for dog tracks if they want to keep offering racing. The tax credits – which would only go to tracks that continue to have racing – could also be sold by the tracks rather than taken. That’s an incentive that may encourage some tracks to continue some racing, at least for a bit, Sachs said, which would drag the end of the sport out over time.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.